Mino for the Modern World
By ROBERT YELLIN
for the Japan Times, Oct. 13, 2004
The traditional Mino pottery styles of Shino, Oribe, Yellow Seto and Black Seto have been the pride of the Japanese ceramic world since the Momoyama Period (1568-1615). However, Mino pottery just isn't what it used to be. Gone are its chadogu (tea ware) days of the 17th-19th century, when it was used to serve local lords and wealthy merchants. Gone, too, are the times it was favored to serve 20th-century lady students of tea.
Mino Ceramics NOW 2004
Exhibition runs through Dec. 15 (2004), and features work by about 120 potters.
Melting Batman Faces
"Icon of Justice"
A set of Kuroiwa Takumi's overglaze enamel vessels
Museum of Modern
Ceramic Art, Gifu
Open 10 a.m. to p.m. daily>
Closed on Mondays, except
when it is a holiday, in which
case it is closed the next day.
Admission 800 yen for adults.
To get there from Nagoya,
take the JR Chuo line to
JR Tajimi Station, from where
the museum is 10 minutes
by taxi. Click here to visit
the musuem's web site (E).
What, then, is the Mino pottery world up to in the 21st century? Well, it's an energetic maze of "anything goes," and in addition to a few surviving stalwart chadogu potters, we find works in clay across the whole gamut of artistic forms.
What defines Mino these days is on view at the Museum of Modern Ceramic Art, Gifu, in its ambitious Mino Ceramics NOW 2004 exhibition that runs through Dec. 15 and features the works of about 120 potters.
Staged to celebrate the museum's second anniversary this autumn, the exhibits on show in Gifu have been chosen to focus on that which matters most there: pots made by potters living and working in Mino.
Mino Ceramics NOW 2004 focuses on 20th-century and contemporary Mino ware, and is divided into five sections:
- Mino Ceramic Art Pioneers
- Mino-yaki Renaissance
- From Classics to Form
- Objects and Craft
- Public Competitions and New Wave
The "pioneers" defined 20th-century Mino pottery -- beginning in the 1930s -- and were led by the late Arakawa Toyozo (1894-1985) in his stunning revival of Momoyama tea-inspired wares. In 1955, Arakawa was designated a living national treasure for his Shino and Black Seto wares. Also in this first-wave group are Kato Kobei V (1893-1982), and the late living national treasures Kato Hajime (1900-68; designated for overglaze enamel in 1961) and Tsukamoto Kaiji (1912-90; designated for white and bluish porcelain in 1983), Koyama Fujio (1900-75), Ando Chizan I (1909-59) and Hineno Sakuzo (1907-84).
The "Renaissance" section, as might be expected, takes its theme from traditional forms, and here we find many chadogu potters using classical glazes. It must be hard for these potters not to fall under the spell of the ancient wares, so alive and entrancing as they still are. As Suzuki Osamu -- a designated living treasure for his Shino -- has said, "Our predecessors have opened up uncharted paths, and we today must understand their hearts and attitudes. What we have to beware of is copying and corrupt fashions."
Most Mino potters have found their own path, including Suzuki's powerful Shino chawan on display. Unfortunately, though, this is not always the case, as some do fall into mere flattery; there is nothing new or moving in Hara Kenji's carbon copy of a Momoyama Period Ki-Seto chawan; lifeless at best and I wonder why it was chosen. Pieces that do sing here are Yoshida Yoshihiko's soulful Red Shino chawan, Tsukamoto Haruhiko's soaring Oribe platter, and Sakai Hiroshi's denim-colored and incised large Shino vessel.
The "Classics to Form" section initially shows ancient Persian-inspired blue glazes. Then we move on to the Mino forms and we find a dynamic three-cut large Oribe platter of waves, mountains and the moon by Kato Kuniya, as well as very distinct forms of sculptural quality especially seen in Kato Yuji's dripping ash-glaze cut bowl.
"Object and Crafts" is the most eclectic section, as it attempts to balance functional works with clay art such as Kuroiwa Takumi's daintily painted red-overglaze enamel vessels and Hobo Shigenori's dreamy composition titled "Icon of Justice" (both shown in above photos). The latter is a fantastic work of Dali-esque images -- a missile impacted near a noh-like mask -- and leaves the viewer encased in a sea of conflicting emotions, drifting between serenity and anger. The whole section is a clash of values, as cups and saucers battle for attention next to spacey alien figures (Kato Yoji), yet it somehow balances out in its elastic clay definitions.
In the last section we discover the future of Mino, for here we have the youngest potters (born between 1964-78) making works that pay homage to the great Shino chawan of the past (Kato Yasukage VIX) and also to wildly imaginative installations such as the series of Batman faces melting into the floor by Hayashi Shigeki (see photo above).
The depth of talent is breathtaking and points to a brilliant future for Mino. My only concern is that more potters in this section utilize the fantastic glazes that put Mino on the map in the first place; it would be a major loss to the world if the glazes of Shino, Oribe, Yellow Seto and Black Seto faded from Mino. I'm sure as these artists mature they will also realize that as well.
Another exhibition of note is a rare look at modern Shodai-yaki in Tokyo until Oct. 17 (2004) at Ginza Kumamoto Honkan (Ginza 5-chome 3-16, next to the Sony Building). Shodai-yaki is fired in Kumamoto Prefecture and is one of Japan's treasured mingei wares.
HOW TO GET TO GIFU MUSEUM OF MODERN CERAMIC ART
"Mino Ceramics NOW 2004" is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; closed Mondays, except when it is a holiday, in which case it is closed the next day. Admission is 800 yen for adults. To get there from Nagoya, take the JR Chuo line to JR Tajimi Station, from where the museum is 10 minutes by taxi. The museum's English homepage is at www.cpm-gifu.jp/museum/english/index.html
The Japan Times: Oct. 13, 2004
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